Making the click-through worthwhile: Trump’s headed in new directions, but it’s far from clear that Republicans as a whole are ready and willing to follow him; why this week’s special House election may set off a GOP panic that is well-founded; and how your tax dollars are keeping some interior designers employed and well-paid.
Happy Bracket Day! Prepare for all U.S economic-productivity numbers to take a dip as everyone spends the next few days filling out their brackets for the office NCAA Tournament pool . . . and then fuming on Thursday and Friday as the staffer who picked winners just based on team nicknames ends up taking an early lead.
Just How ‘Trumpified’ Is the GOP?
At the end of January, one of my all-time favorites in the political arena, former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal and looked ahead — some would say way ahead — at what the Republican party will stand for once Trump leaves the stage: “Republicans must learn to consolidate and build on that base. The next Republican presidential nominee after Mr. Trump will have a fighting shot at bringing home the people who like lower taxes and dead terrorists but bristle at his crude behavior.”
(Hasn’t just about everyone right-of-center always liked lower taxes and dead terrorists?)
If you listen to Democrats, you hear a lot about how Trump has taken over the GOP or “Trumpified” it. But it’s fair to ask how much the party is really changing, and how much it’s just begrudgingly acquiescing to a president who, up until recently, pushed and enacted a traditionally Republican agenda. As Year Two of the Trump presidency progresses, his agenda is indeed now starting to diverge significantly from what a “normal” Republican president would support.
Always improvisational, the president exercised his penchant for going it alone in a big way this week: first, by ordering sweeping tariffs opposed by foreign allies and by many in his own party, then hours later delivering the stunning news that he’ll meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Let’s throw in support for the assault-weapons ban. Some would argue that doesn’t count because the administration is walking back the positions the president took during that live televised White House meeting, quietly dropping Trump’s endorsement of raising the age to purchase a firearm. But if the president repeatedly says, on camera, that he supports a policy, then it should count as an administration policy.
There were few Republicans calling for trade tariffs before Trump did it . . . and even if Republicans don’t manage a successful legislative effort to reverse Trump’s decisions, not many GOP lawmakers are actually willing to go on the record and say they think the tariffs are a good idea.
Few Republicans are now genuine fans of direct diplomacy with the heads of hostile foreign states. And it’s safe to bet that if another person was president, Trump would be mocking that president as a gullible sucker for meeting with the North Korean dictator. Trump doesn’t have faith in diplomacy to resolve the threat from North Korea; he has faith in his own charm and persuasiveness to resolve the threat from North Korea. (If Trump really believed in diplomacy as a foreign-policy tool, he would have nominated an ambassador to South Korea by now. Or Egypt. Or Jordan. Or Saudi Arabia. Or Turkey.)
Heaven forbid, if something happened to the president tomorrow . . . would a President Pence keep the tariffs in place? Or would Pence listen to the half-muted chorus of skepticism from congressional Republicans?
Would he continue to seek out direct face-to-face summit meetings with hostile dictators?
Would he support any of the positions on gun control that Trump advocated in that White House meeting? Would a President Pence support the assault-weapons ban? (Perhaps there is a genuine shift in Republican thinking on guns; Florida governor Rick Scott just signed legislation to raise the age to purchase any gun in his state to 21.)
I’d argue that there is currently a Republican president who supports tariffs, direct diplomacy with dictators, and various gun-control proposals, but not a Republican party that supports these policies. When Trump leaves the political scene, those positions leave with him.
It’s been noted that a lot of much lesser-known political figures have tried to be mini-Trumps in 2016 and failed: Paul Nehlen, Carlos Behruff, Mike Pape. Does Roy Moore count? You could argue Corey Stewart was most successful, with a close second-place finish in the Virginia gubernatorial primary. I suppose we should keep an eye on brothel owner Dennis Hof in Nevada.
Perhaps when 2018 ends, one of the stories of the year will be a wave of populist mini-Trumps rising in GOP primaries. But for now, the evidence is scant that the Republican party as a whole, below the presidential level, is more populist than traditionally conservative.
Prepare Yourselves for a GOP Panic in Midweek
Tomorrow is the special House election in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, which means the headlines on Wednesday could be apocalyptic for the Republican party if their candidate, Rick Saccone, loses — or even if he only wins by a few points.
There’s no getting around it: Republicans should not be having trouble in this district. Tim Murphy resigned the seat he had held for 15 years in October after it was revealed that he asked a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair to get an abortion. Covering the southwest corner of the state and encompassing Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs, this district has the second-oldest electorate in Pennsylvania and scores R+11 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Back in the early 1990s, this was Rick Santorum’s House district.
Jay Cost is underwhelmed with the GOP candidate:
An Air Force veteran, Saccone has represented the Pittsburgh suburbs in the state house since 2012. He is proudly running as “Trump 2.0,” pledging strongly to support the president if and when he gets to Congress. But he hardly has the panache of the man he claims to emulate. Moreover, as one plugged-in Republican consultant told me, “His issue set is so orthodox it looks like he thinks his constituency is the Heritage Foundation break room.” Worst of all, his campaign has been, to put it bluntly, pathetic: His fundraising has been anemic, forcing him to rely heavily on the national party; his campaign schedule has been lackadaisical; and his grassroots organization basically nonexistent.
Keep in mind that Friday brought another round of fantastic economic numbers — 800,000 Americans joined the labor force in January, and payroll up 727,000 in last three months.
Maybe this reflects a bad GOP candidate, but . . . unemployment is at 4.5 percent in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, and the stock market, despite recent turbulence, is roaring and people should be pleased with the state of their retirement accounts. Tax cuts are starting to take effect. We haven’t suffered any major terrorism attacks lately. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria are barely mentioned in the news anymore. How much better of an environment can a Republican candidate ask for?
If everything’s going so well, why are Americans so irked with the party running Congress?
As Peggy Noonan wrote this weekend, “A president who has relative prosperity and relative peace should be at 60% approval.” She concludes the atmosphere of chaos — sudden changes in administration policy, a revolving door of White House staff and general unpredictability is weighing Trump down.”
Perhaps it’s weighing the GOP down as well.
You Would Think Federal Office Building Lobbies Would Look Nicer
From OpenTheBooks’ “Mapping The Swamp” report, we learn that our federal government employs 270 people with the job title “Interior Design.” The U.S. State Department employs 24 of them, and they have the highest average salary — $122,093 annually. The highest-paid interior designer in the federal government works for the Department of the Treasury, making $152,687. The Department of Veterans Affairs employs the most, with 171 interior designers. Across the entire government, more than 40 interior designers made six figures.
ADDENDA: Shockingly, Elizabeth Warren did not respond to an invitation to take a DNA test to confirm her claims of Native American heritage.